Teacher absences hurt learning, budgets

Absentee teachers are hurting students’ learning and district budgets, according to a Center for American Progress report, Teacher Absence as a Leading Indicator of Student Achievement. Nearly 40 percent of teachers missed more than 10 days of school in 2009-10. Districts spent at least $4 billion to hire subs.

“Every 10 absences lowers average mathematics achievement equivalent to the difference between having a novice teacher and one with a bit more experience,” Raegen Miller, the report’s author, writes, citing a 2008 study.

Teachers who work in high-poverty and high-minority schools are absent more often, CAP reports.“It’s plausible that achievement gaps can be attributed, in part, to a teacher attendance gap,” writes Miller.

In New Jersey’s Camden City Public Schools, a district that has struggled with poverty and poor test scores, up to 40 percent of teachers are absent on any given school day, a figure that has forced the district to hire a private substitute-teacher agency to help ensure there’s an adult in each classroom.

Not surprisingly, the more paid sick leave teachers get, the more they use. The report recommends giving teachers at least seven paid sick days per year, but limiting excused absences and using incentives to discourage “frivolous” use of paid leave.

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  1. “Teachers who work in high-poverty and high-minority schools are absent more often, ”

    Those teachers are much more likely to need an occasional “mental health” day because of the stressors on their job.

    I’d also like to see a comparison of the attendence of the students at these low performing schools versus the attendence of their teachers, or by students at better performing schools.

    • By far, the majority of days I miss from my classroom are not my personal choice, but instead me missing to attend trainings I don’t need and don’t benefit from.

  2. The trouble is, those figures often are FAR from the truth:

    – Districts that never end up hiring a teacher, but keep a long-term sub in the job (NOT uncommon in urban districts), count EVERY day of that person’s work as a “teacher absence”. The district saves money by using a sub in the position, and – often – the job is held by a relative or friend of someone in the district (who, BTW, usually qualifies for benefits, a prime reason for someone to take the job). Some of these “sub” jobs can last for years, without the district making an honest effort to hire a permanent teacher.
    – Teachers who are injured on the job count in these stats. Not exactly voluntary.
    – These jobs are often held by people nearing the end of their career – they are older, and often sicker. Some of them are just running out their sick time – an abuse, but they usually get away with it. Some are just stressed by the difficulty of the situation, and use “mental health” days.

    • It is my understanding that, when a teacher goes to work for the teachers’ union, that teacher is put on extended leave and a long-term sub goes in – which allows the teacher to continue to accrue benefits and time toward retirement.

      Also, some subs are covering for the teacher’s maternity leave.